The use of counterfeit circuit breakers in low-cost housing poses significant safety hazards, says CBI Electric low voltage marketing executive Louis Blom.
This follows the company’s discovery, in April, that its locally manufactured circuit breakers are being imitated by an unknown manufacturer in Asia, and sold to local whole-salers as original CBI products.
Blom tells Engineering News that CBI became aware of the imitation products after receiving a complaint from a customer about a faulty circuit breaker.
“Initially, we could not tell that the device was counterfeit. Externally, it was a perfect imitation with our manufacturing information stipulated on the side of the casing. However, on closer inspection, we found that it had inferior components, which indicated that it was a cheap imitation of our product,” he says.
Blom adds that a possible suspect has been identified and that CBI is taking legal action.
As the only circuit breaker manufacturer in South Africa, CBI’s products undergo quality testing at its Elandsfontein site and adhere to International Electrotechnical Commission 90647-2 and SANS 556-1 standards.
CBI conducted testing of counterfeit 10A circuit breakers it obtained through retailers and found that these present an electrical hazard.
Further, the materials used in the counterfeit devices were found to lack many of the intrinsic safety parameters, such as flame retardant additives, exacerbating the hazard. Blom says this could lead to the electrical wiring catching fire and the end-user’s premises burning down.
He adds that it is obvious that the counterfeit products are not tested by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications, which puts the end-user, who unknowingly buys the product, at risk.
Counterfeit imported circuit breakers are often cheaper than the original products, offering a solution to housing developers seeking to limit costs in their housing projects, states Blom.
He adds that other cheaper imports from the Far East also pose a quality challenge as some of these appear to be only tested once by the regulator before entering the local market.
Further fuelling the dilemma are small wholesalers who do not care about, or who are not aware of, the risks of counterfeit and cheap substandard imports and continue selling these products.
Blom says the poor quality of circuit breaker installations in both low-cost housing and general applications is also cause for concern.
“In many cases, inexperi-enced electricians install equip-ment, which results in poor installations. And the general inexperience of artisans adds to the problem. Such persons do self-policing and do not notice if the installation is faulty,” he notes.
This is dangerous to both the person doing the installation and the person in whose home the device is installed.
Protecting consumers against nonconforming products remains a high priority for the company.
Although CBI offers circuit breaker installation training to municipalities and electricians, he feels more government sup-port is needed to implement training programmes at municipalities.
“Inexperience at specification level in municipalities is a problem – more skilled people are needed in this area.”
He says the training of consumers is also important. “End-users must be educated on the dangers of electricity, what circuit breakers do, as well as signs of failure.”
Further, Blom believes that the industry should place more pressure on the regulator to do testing on a regular basis to ensure continued compliance with its standards. He suggests that this could be achieved by establishing field component inspections.
“Industry shares the respon-sibility to ensure standard compliance. “In the absence of public sector control, industry must take the initiative,” he says.
Further, he feels it is import-ant to curb poor workmanship on low-cost housing projects.
Blom asserts that greater consistency is required from the Department of Human Settlements in terms of investing in low-cost housing.
Blom says the influx of cheaper and forged circuit breakers into the local market has impacted on CBI’s sales and could pose a significant risk to the sustainability of local manufacturing.
In fact, job losses through-out industry due to imports are a cause for concern.”
After successfully complet-ing quality testing, a large proportion of CBI’s products are exported to Asia and Europe.
Further, Blom fears that the counterfeit products, which do not deliver the required quality and safety, could damage the company’s reputation.
Its circuit breakers have been used in low-cost housing projects in the Ekurhuleni, City of Cape Town and eThekwini municipalities.